With no small amount of effort, RJ Gottlieb and his infamous Big Red Camaro came back from the ashes to finish in Open Class with an 11:08.857 (placing Fourth), while PPIHC Time Attack veteran Kash Singh brought his street-driven (3,590-mile round-trip), twin-turbo 2017 Ford Mustang GT, supported by AMSOIL and Tire Rack, with a personal best of13:22.636 after dodging a few goats and fog. Full results here.
If you aint first, yer last! is probably the most well-meaning quotes in racing, but to the guys and gals who truly understand what sweat equity is while under a race car, thats not what its all about. Some races are about pure survivalism, our Gear Vendors HOT ROD Drag Week, powered by Dodge, is one of them. More than climbing to the top of the podium, seeing the peak of the mountain is worth more weight in respect and satisfaction than just about anything else winning is just the bonus.
Its a logistical nightmare for everyone. Think of a nine-hour work day that begins at 2am and ends sometime after 11am thats how long were on the mountain just running cars during the four-day practice. Ateam has to figure out how to get their car up the hill (meaning, a smaller truck and trailer, or sometimes both; others drive their cars up), unloaded, prepped, practiced for about three runs, repacked, and off the main roadway by 9am (so that the Pikes Peak Highway can open to the public for the day).
Assuming your morning goes well (it usually doesnt), youve still got to inspect and maintain the race car, butthen its a third-shift work schedule at minimum. And if the day doesnt go well? Stack that 9-to-5 work-day block on whatever madness youve got to fix for tomorrows practice (again, starting the day at 2am), because for many drivers theres no choice in dropping practice days for fear of disqualification (be it meeting a minimum number of practice days for rookies or making sure you can run your day of qualifying). Theres more stories of 48-labor-hour days than there are of smooth ones, but its the blurred nights of masochistic work that mean you make it to race day.
This, of course, after youve gone anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 feet higher in elevation from where you woke up in the thin atmosphere, the oxygen deprivation not only slows your body, but also your mind. Simple things, like whered the torque wrench go? become SAT tests, and anything more complex turns into a brain train-wreck.Add up the weeks of stress coming into an event, and you have a recipe for some wrench-tossing shouting matches. Butgood race is dependant on a good team with good communication, and Pikes will test every bit of that and you might not even be cognizant of why youre mad at the little things and it might ruin friendships. Its these bands of misfits, however cohesive, that must maintain a self-destructive machine over the course of the week in order to finish.
Then theres the mountain itself: In just the 12.4-mile course, theres 156 corners with varying elevation change, camber, and radius changes. Guys who see the newly-paved mountain as a home for their road-paint-scraping Time Attack or Prototype-class cars are rudely awaken when their belly panscrash into the rough pavement or lift tires through the corners due to the crazy articulation needed in highly-banked hair-pins (some racers use rally-inspired suspension combinations to get the travel they need).Theres no run-off, only rocks, guardrail, or sky and theres a whole lot more sky than there is of the other two.
If you have an off, its going to ruin your day or worse and if you need parts, youre sourcing them in a mountain town that can barely find internet service, much less an oil pan to your Audi or a one-off intercooler that you just crushed after spinning at Boulder Park.
On any given day, youre facing rain, hail, goats, marmots, deer, and fog, just to throw a wild car (or three) at you every day. Every green flag in practice, no matter how bad you need that seat time on the mountain, is throwing the how-can-this-all-go-wrong dice. The risks are the same as race day, by and large, but the reward is stillwaiting for you at 14,115 feet on Sunday.
Remember how youre already starving for oxygen and sense when you unload the car? The engine and its cooling systems are struggling worse. Not only does air density affect horsepower, but it also affects how much heat can be shed from the car. With less air density, theres less matter to absort heat with. This not only raises cooling temps to some hilarious levels, and often ones impossible to reach at sea-level, but also raises under-hood air- and braking-temps well-beyond what youll typically see. The catch-22 of Pikes is that the longer into the run you are, as the car builds heat in every system, the thinner the air gets with your increasing elevation. This can be an annoyance during practice or a back-stabbing surprise during race day as we learned in 2017.
Right if you havent crashed, overheated, or threaten to divorce someone youre not even married to, then youve made it to race day. More than likely, by this point, youve inadvertently relied on some new friends to get here (call it the Pikes Family), and the weight of the weeks (months years) stress is certainly felt in the 5-point harness belts as they pull you into your seat. The past five days have felt like an endurance race in their own, youve maybe got 18 hours of sleep since last Sunday, and youre inching closer and closer to that timing clock.
When the flag drops, it all stops.
The rest of the game is on the driver, from then on out. The foundation has been laid, but its time to see how far they can build their run up the mountain. Where stress has peaked, sleep has bottomed-out. The car, scarred from a week of practice and hustle, is right there with you. The best of course memorization and notes falls way to subconscious actions and mistakes, but as the scenery changes from dense forest to moon-like rockscapes, you know progress is being made. While the car grasps every oxygen molecule it can, your lungs are doing the same as you fight the wheel and wield the rest.
Nothing is exactly like it was in practice, and you dont know if thats from the everything-deprivation or the incoming weather, but fog begats a lot of hell from mother nature, and the imperative mission is to get to the top. Sometimes theres a friends car pulled off safely, with them waving you on; but other times, you may not know why theyre upside down in a ditch, and you have to maintain concentration in the drive and trust in Pikes Peaks safety crews (them being one of the most dedicated groups out there is no small relief).
Once at the Peak, you feel about as light as a cloud theres a group of racers whove all been through the same hell you have, and theres cramped cozy little donut shop to huddle in as the days weather continues to roll in.Who won? Who knows better yet, who cares? Youve all just survived a hell week like no other. If youve made it to the top, youve proven more than a few things about yourself as a driver and more importantly how strong you and your team is. Not every week or run is perfect, and thats Pikes for ya! is how more than a few folk write the year off, but the race is more than just the time spent between green and checkered flags: eating those fourteen-thousand-foot donuts with your fellow racers means everything else from here on out is just a little bit easier, even if you cant always have that Pikes family around you.
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